Marisol Smart studied psychology at the University of Georgia and currently serves as a 7th grade Math teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle. In this month’s Staff Spotlight, Smart shares her experience with remote teaching and how her team has adapted since school closures.

Given this transition to remote learning was entirely unexpected, what were your top priorities with students during the first few weeks of remote learning?

My priorities were to ensure my students felt safe and loved. I did this by doing things I had control of. One of them was to set up consistent structures. For instance, students know that I will be communicating with them via phone on a daily basis to go over academics and life in general. I also used this time to close academic gaps by assigning skills that students need to work on. These skills are on their individual level and I conferenced with them one-on-one to ensure they understood and mastered the skill.

How are you communicating with and supporting students during this time?

My students are all on different math and reading levels so I work with them one-on-one via phone call or video chat. Each morning I start by sending students a text message with the individualized assigned skills and reminder of our conference call time. I also conference with my ELL students to help with their reading skills.

How are students coping during this crisis? In what ways are teachers encouraging students to take care of themselves?

Our students are very resilient; they go with the flow. What is amazing is that they do not let this uncertainty get in the way of learning. Some of them do express fear, but they do not let it get in the way, which I find admirable.

Teachers at KIPP Indy are the most caring teachers and students know and pick up on it. Some of my colleagues send good morning texts or funny gifs to students to brighten their day. Mr. Shah also educated our students on proper hygiene, while Mrs. McCreary uploaded YouTube videos of yoga moves.

How are you and your grade level team communicating remotely? How are you boosting morale during this time?

We communicate daily to go over goals and collaborate on how to better serve our students. We are also on constant communication via text. Our team is very competitive by nature, in a healthy way. We set high expectations for ourselves, never create excuses, and push ourselves and each other every day.

How is KIPP Indy College Prep staying aligned and working together remotely?

E-learning was set up with our students and families in mind. The first week, work was mailed to students who did not have technology at home. The second week, students received Chromebooks allowing students to have access to IXL and other assignments. Every day we brainstormed ways to support families and students. My colleagues act each day to ensure our students and families are having an equitable e-learning experience. Our network as a whole has a done a great job in directing families to resources within the community when they are in need.

What is your advice for other educators who are working to adapt and support students during this uncertain time?

First, take care of yourself mentally and physically. I start my day by doing something I love- running. It clears my mind and makes me feel good about myself. This translates to how I approach my students, families, and colleagues throughout the day. As an adult, I have to be a calm and caring person for my students so I can show my students that I value them every day.

Do not let the uncertainty cloud your mind because we have to be strong for those around us. Consistency, accountability, love, and humor mix together to make remote learning and work possible.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about KIPP Indy’s response to COVID-19 that you are particularly proud of?

I am proud to be part of KIPP Indy’s team. Our leadership at KIPP Indy College Prep has done an amazing job in quickly and gracefully coming up with solutions. On March 12, when we found out about the initial closure, I was so heartbroken because we were going to lose so much learning time and I was going to miss my students. Literally, twelve hours later, leadership had a solution that worked for everyone. Every day since, they have continued to polish and make our solutions better. Not only did we focus on academics, we focused on ways to continuously support families during this difficult time.